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Counting the cost of Ghana's debt restructuring: Lessons from Greece and other countries

Korsi DzokotoBy Korsi DZOKOTO E1676838088543 Korsi Dzokoto

Wed, 3 May 2023 Source: Korsi Dzokoto, Contributor

The total economic and financial cost of debt restructuring can be significant and can vary depending on the country's circumstances. In the case of Greece, the cost of the debt crisis was estimated to be around €260 billion, or 146% of its GDP, and resulted in severe economic contraction, high unemployment, and social unrest.

In addition to Greece, other countries that have undergone debt restructuring, such as Argentina and Ukraine, have also experienced significant economic and financial costs. In Argentina's case, the cost of restructuring was estimated at $100 billion, and the country defaulted on its debt twice in 2001 and 2014, resulting in high inflation, devaluation of the currency, and reduced investor confidence. Similarly, Ukraine's debt restructuring in 2015 resulted in significant losses for bondholders and reduced economic growth.

Therefore, it is clear that Ghana’s debt restructuring can have severe economic and financial costs, including reduced economic growth, high inflation, job losses, reduced government services, and reduced investor confidence. I hope Ghana has carefully considered the costs and benefits of restructuring before pursuing the venture. Because Ghana had the opportunity to go to the IMF without necessarily going through debt restructuring.

While debt restructuring can provide short-term relief for Ghana’s struggle to meet its obligations, it often comes with several consequences and costs, including:

Loss of Credibility:

Debt restructuring may damage the credibility of the debtor, leading to a loss of confidence from lenders and investors. However, there are also potential negative consequences. For example, debt restructuring can damage a country's reputation and credibility with international investors, which could make it more difficult and expensive to access financing in the future. It can also lead to increased political instability, particularly if austerity measures are implemented as part of the restructuring program as Ghana seeks IMF bailout program.

Higher Interest Rates:

Lenders may demand higher interest rates or impose stricter conditions on future loans due to increased risk. During a debt restructuring program, a country's credit rating may be downgraded by rating agencies due to the default or missed payments. As a result, lenders may demand higher interest rates to compensate for the increased risk. This can increase the cost of borrowing for the government and other borrowers in the country, leading to a slowdown in economic activity.

Furthermore, if the debt restructuring involves converting debt to new instruments such as bonds with longer maturities, the interest payments on these new instruments may be higher than the original debt. This could result in a higher debt burden for the country over the long term, leading to higher interest payments and a slower rate of economic growth.

Overall, increased interest rates can lead to a vicious cycle where the country's debt burden increases, leading to higher interest rates, which in turn further increases the debt burden. This can make it difficult for the country to attract foreign investment, leading to a further slowdown in economic activity.

Legal and Administrative Costs

Legal and administrative costs are an important aspect of debt restructuring, as restructuring agreements require significant legal and financial expertise. Lawyers, accountants, and consultants are often involved in the process to ensure that the agreement is legally sound and financially viable. These professionals may need to negotiate with creditors on behalf of the borrower and review complex financial documents to ensure that the agreement is structured in the best interest of all parties involved.

Legal and administrative costs can vary widely depending on the complexity of the restructuring agreement and the number of parties involved. In some cases, these costs can be significant and may add to the overall cost of the debt restructuring process. For example, in 2012, Greece’s debt restructuring process cost an estimated €200 million in fees for lawyers and financial advisors.

Despite the costs associated with legal and administrative work, it is important to ensure that the restructuring agreement is well-structured and legally sound. This helps to prevent any legal challenges to the agreement and ensures that it is successful in achieving the intended objectives, such as reducing debt burdens and improving financial stability.

Social and Economic Costs

When a country undergoes a debt restructuring program like Ghana, it often results in social and economic costs. One of the most significant costs is job losses, as companies may need to downsize or close down due to financial difficulties resulting from the debt restructuring as it is currently happening in the financial sector. This can have a ripple effect on the broader economy, leading to decreased consumer spending and further job losses in related industries.

Reduced government services are another potential social and economic cost of debt restructuring. When a country is struggling with debt, it may need to cut back on social programs, healthcare, education, and other critical services. This can negatively impact citizens who rely on these services, particularly those who are most vulnerable.

Furthermore, debt restructuring can also reduce investor confidence, leading to decreased foreign investment, capital flight, and a weakened currency. This can exacerbate the country's economic problems and make it harder to recover from the debt crisis.

Overall, social and economic costs resulting from debt restructuring can be significant and long-lasting, making it essential for governments and policymakers to carefully consider the trade-offs when making decisions about debt management.

Conclusion

The financial and economic costs of debt restructuring, and default can be staggering for a country like Ghana. High interest rates can lead to reduced access to credit and increased borrowing costs, making it harder for businesses and individuals to invest and grow the economy. Reduced investor confidence can also have a significant impact, making it more difficult to attract foreign investment and capital. Inflation and economic instability can result in decreased purchasing power and reduced economic growth, further exacerbating the problem.

These costs are not limited to Ghana; countries like Greece and Argentina have experienced similar issues and paid a heavy financial price for their debt restructuring and default. For example, Greece's debt crisis in 2015 led to a reduction in the country's GDP by almost a quarter, and it took years for the economy to recover.

To mitigate these negative impacts, stakeholders must work together to find sustainable solutions. Governments should prioritize fiscal discipline and debt management to prevent the need for debt restructuring and default. The central bank, financial stability council, World Bank, and industry associations can provide support and guidance to help Ghana manage its debt and prevent financial crises.

In the end, effective debt management and responsible borrowing can help prevent the need for debt restructuring and default, promoting long-term economic growth and stability. The financial cost of debt restructuring and default can be significant, but with careful management, Ghana can avoid these pitfalls and build a stronger, more stable economy.

Source: Korsi Dzokoto, Contributor
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